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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a look at one of the most acclaimed films of the year so far, "beast of the southern wild," exploring the hardships endured by so many in the area and their struggle to maintain their humanity. tonight, we will introduce you to a star of the film, dwight henry," a baker, who accidentally ended up in the film that won at the sundance film festival. that is coming up, right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it is the cornerstone we all know. it is not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make everyday
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better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station by viewers like you. thank you. tavis: the likelihood of dwight henry starring in a critically acclaimed film an award-winning movie could not have been more remote. the small-business owner and new orleans residents not only survived katrina, but they became one of the first businesses to reopen after the storm. the directors of "beast of the southern wild" asked him to star in their movie, and he said no, and now, dwight henry is one of the stars of the film. here are now some scenes of
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"beast of the southern wild." ♪
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tavis: so the first question is, who is baking the good stuff? who is baking cookies when you are going out on tour, talking about your film? >> i have two partners who are holding it down while i go on this press tour. tavis: good to meet you. i just want to jump in because these stories are fascinating to
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me, how something comes together so organically, and it ends up being such a success that it winds at sundance, it gets all kind of a claim at cannes, it makes a star out of you, but it is your first time acting. >> yes. tavis: i am going to screw her name up. >> quvenzhane. tavis: it is much easier to say hushpuppy. the director, his first feature at 29 years of age, and all of this good this has come out of this and all of this claim, what do you make out of it? >> me living in the new orleans region, the region that we live in, we have to go through these things. we always have to go through the possibility of evacuate, the possibility of losing your homes, losing your loved ones,
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losing your businesses. living in new orleans, we show a resiliency living down there that these people have been a bathtub. they refuse to leave the things they love more than anything in life. i brought a certain illness to the movie being from that region that an outside actor -- which they tried to do. they tried to bring in outside, professional actors, but it did not feel right because they never went through these things that we go through living in the region, so that is one of the things that helped director benh zeitlin. tavis: so how did this happen? take your time and tell me this story. >> it is a long story. tavis: that is ok. i am not going anywhere. how about you? >> ok, well the bakery was right
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across. all of the people, benh zeitlin, everybody, they used to get doughnuts, and they used to put fliers at the bakery. "if anybody wants to appear in an upcoming feature film, poll the number and give us a call." 1 dick armey in the producer, were sitting in the bakery, so i decided to pull the number and go over there and cast. i went over there are, and he gave me a script. he gave the actress a script. we went back and forth with the actress, and we did it well, and i said, "see you later." i went back to the bakery. and then, michael called me back for another reading, and he said, "mr. zeitlin loved the reading." so i went back and did another reading, and i again said, "see
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you later." i never thought i was going to get it. i was, basically, it "see you later, michael." during that time, i had moved to my bakery to a bigger location, and they were looking for me to give me the part, but nobody knew where i've is back. -- where i was at. there is nobody who knew where mr. henry was at. tavis: the next time you move, let me know where you are going to be. if he cannot find you, there are customers who could not find you, too. >> two days after my location, i renamed it, and he walked in two days after i opened it, "mr. hendry, you have got the part." i had to move a lot of town for 2.5 months into all of these different things, and i was, like, "michael, i am sorry.
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i am flattered, but i cannot take apart. i just opened up a new business, and i cannot walk away with it -- from it like that? " he said, "we will try to give you some time to work things out at the bakery so that you can take apart." he came back a few yield -- few weeks later, it had not worked out. i had to turn him down again. i was flattered and wanted to take apart, but i would not sacrifice the business back i opened up to build to pass on to my kids and everything, i would not sacrifice that for a possible acting career. i thought about how they had seen some things in me that i really did not see in myself, and the last time they came to the bakery, they came with all three producers, and they even brought their account with me. the account said this is the maximum we can give you to do
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this part, this and that, and they had so much believe and confidence in me. i worked things out with the partners, and i went on to do the film. i told you it was a long story. tavis: no, i will fast ford, and we will come back. so from that humble beginning, where this story started, he is now shooting a film now with some guy named brad pitt. i just thought i would throw that in there for good measure. the guy who did not want to do it is now hanging out with brad pitt on the set of another film. so what do you make of the fact that after going through all of that, there was such a beautiful response and such a claim -- acclaim on this project? >> it is a beautiful film.
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people can relate to people or resilience and people that love the things that they love. those are things that people can really relate to. it is a good film that people can really attach themselves to and love, and your whole family can actually go see it. tavis: my producer came to me in preparation of this conversation. he gave me a copy to watch at home. chris saw it first and said to me, "i want to warn you. you are going to love the film, but it is tough to watch." it is tough to watch, and it was for him, because he had a tough time just processing the way the people lived in that kind of extreme poverty, and you mentioned earlier that so many people in the new orleans area are struggling every day, trying to put their lives online, but it will be tough for people to watch. what gets them through it, what
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gets the viewer through it, is reveling in the humanity of the people. as you said, they love what they do, they love their lives, but that struggle is hard for some to really relate to. >> being from new orleans, we are not like a lot of other places in the united states. we are different, and we are different in our resiliency, and the more things that we go through, the tougher we get. the more storms we go through, the tougher we get. people do understand that when a hurricane comes, we have a party. we have a hurricane party. if people are wondering, "why are they having a party when a hurricane is coming?" we are not going to let you change our lives. we were partying before. and we are going to continue on doing this. it is a certain resiliency. we are not going to let things disrupt our lives. tavis: when you first go in,
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they give you what we call sides. now you have these terminology -- >> yes, these terms. tavis: they give you new terms. you had a chance to read the script and see what the story line was, the narrative. when you saw it, what did the script say to you? what turned you on about what this movie was going to say? >> i wanted people around the world to understand some of the difficulties that we go through living in that region, and a lot of things that we go through living in that region, we do not have to go through, because a lot of these things, like the island that we shot the movie on, they are protecting everything but that protected -- that particular arlen. man-made problems. they do not build levees to protect all of the area. they just built levees to protect certain areas.
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the first day of shooting, we had to move a lot of our boats that we launched our boats in the water, we had to move them because of another man-made problem that help fund -- happens in the gulf of mexico, -- that happened in the gulf of mexico, so i hope it helps people address these. tavis: since she is not here, where you at all worried about putting your future in the hands of this kid that was 29? >> he actually put his career in our hands. tavis: to shape. -- touchee. i want to meet this little girl, but tell me again, about hushpuppy, because i cannot say
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your name. >> quvenzhane. tavis: tell me about her. >> she is a bright actress with a very bright future. i would love to work with her again. she was amazing. she was 5 years old when she auditioned for this movie. she was 6 when they started shooting. to see a six-year-old girl to some of the things that she did in this film is just amazing, amazing. tavis: she is from the new orleans area? so coming back to this project, i referenced earlier that you are doing something with brad pitt. does that mean that you are going to give the bakery up? become a thespian proof >> no, i am about ready to open up a new bakery. it is called winks bakery.
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i named it after my character, and i am developing a pastry named to the hush puppy. tavis: that is called brand extension. i love how you are working that out. so you have a product named hushpuppy and a. baker recalled wink. -- a bakery called wink. >> we have so many productions that is not necessary for me to move out of town. the last role that i had was shot in the plantations in the area. just 30 minutes away. i could shoot back and forth. >> -- tavis: between making hushpuppies. >> between making hushpuppies.
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tavis: while this film depicts life in the region, as you said, what i love about new orleans, if they are nothing else, they are real, natural. >> natural. tavis: what you see is what you get. when you talk to those in new orleans. acting requires you to do this three, four, 5, 6, 7, eight times, until you get it right to give the director what he wants. what did you make of the experience of making this versus who you really are? >> mr. zeitlin said he had seen some natural things in me. a lot of people would go to school for three, up for you are, five years, go to acting school, take drama classes, but he saw some natural things in me that did not require me to have to go to school to learn a lot
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of things that i needed to do for the film, but they actually brought in acting coaches and professionally -- professional coaches to work with me during the day at the bakery to work on particular acting skills, but they had a hard time catching up with me, because i was always tired from working at the bakery. they could not catch up with me, so they brought the coaches in at midnight while i am baking bread. we are reading the script and working on different acting techniques, learning how to change emotions and different things that i needed to do to perform this part. tavis: did your respect for actors go up? >> yes. my respect for actors and actresses is tremendously high. i thought they had an easy job, but their job is not easy. tavis: which is harder, baking
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bread or acting? >> acting. it requires a lot of focus, determination. if you want to work on your craft and be professional about it, it takes a lot of focus, a lot of concentration. tavis: brad pitt and i have hung out a lot in new orleans. speaking of cool, how do you state " when you end up in a brad pitt film? >> well, i just keep myself grounded. i keep myself grounded, keep myself focused, but it is a tremendous experience going from the film i did, which is doing great, then to be able to do a film on that same level is amazing, because a lot of times, a lot of actors, they have to start at the bottom, extras, doing different things, and for me to be thrown into a film that is getting all of the praise like beast" is getting, working
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with facile banter -- fassbinder and brad pitt -- tavis: where was the first time you saw it requests at sundance. the director, he did not want me to watch dailies. he explained to me that he did not want me to watch dailies so that i would critique myself, "i need to do this different," or, "i need to do that different." he did not want me to watch it so that i would critique myself, so the first time i saw it was at the sundance film festival. i am sitting in the audience. the audience is packed. i am nervous, and i am sweating because i do not know how people will react to the film.
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this is the first time they have shown the movie to anybody. i am sitting in there, and i am nervous, and when the film was over, 1500 people stood up, and they clapped for about 15 minutes. if they would not sit down. people were whistling. people were crying. there was a tissue paper everywhere. it was a tissue paper moment. and i needed some tissue. it was amazing the response he got from the sun dance audience, and i had to kind of catch myself from getting emotional because it was great, and then we went to cannes, and we got an even bigger response from them. when people told us we were going there, all right, sundance is great, but the audience at cannes is a tough audience. they will walk out on you, and they do not like american films
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often. i am there again, and when the film got over, it was unbelievable, the tremendous response that we got from the french audience. they stood up for 15 -- i am not exaggerating. they stood up for 15 mauer -- 15 minutes. whistling, shouting. balloons in the air. tavis: you have got these two disparate audiences that you just described. what do you think that all of these human beings have in common? >> all the people can relate to love, resiliency, toughness, camaraderie, how these people stick together in the worst circumstances. anybody in the world can relate to these things. they can relate to the strength and the love that they have. tavis: do you have kids? >> yes. >> how do you relate that --
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this is where you're acting chops come in. you would do anything for your baby in the film, hushpuppy, it was clear. but you were tough on her. you had your trailer, and she had her trailer. how did you get into character in relationship with this girl? i am sure it is different. >> i have a seven-year-old daughter. when we started shooting, she was 60 years old. a lot of things i related to my daughter as far as loving her. everything i do in my life, the bakery that i built, all of the venture's i have in the new orleans area, i am doing that to pass on to my kids, something when i am dead and up there in heaven, i can look down and say i have something to pass on to my kids, and that is the same energy that i brought to the
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movies, that she is the most important person in the world to me. she does not have a mother. she lives in a region that is volatile and dangerous, and her daddy is dying. she is going to have to learn how to do a lot of things, feed herself, close herself. -- clothe herself. i am teaching heard this so she will survive, and i am trying to teach it with a sense of urgency because her daddy is not going to be there that much longer. throughout the course of the movie, some people think i am being mean to her, but i am passionately tried to emphasize with an urgency that you know how to do these things because your daddy is not going to be here that long. just as if you're living in the region, and you had a child, in you were dying, the most
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important thing for you would be that your daughter knew how to be ok and to make it in that region. tavis: on the streets of new orleans? >> people know me now. people knew me then, but people really know me now because i am in all of these magazines and newspapers, and they are seeing me in the film, and everybody knows me now. i cannot walk up the street. "mr. henry, mr. henry. we see you on television." tavis: what about for business? >> it is definitely good for business. >> that is good, but are you selling hushpuppies. >> yes. i do not want anyone to forget about wink big. bistro, coming soon.
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you always have to believe in the underdog. we were an underdog with the film. people did not expect it to do as well as it did. it was low budget. that is the other thing. you have to pull for a good, heartfelt, underdog story. it is natural for our people to pull for that. tavis: they are going to be talking about this for awhile, so you may want to run out and see it as soon as you can, because all of your friends are going to be seeing it. it is called "beast of the southern wild," starring dwight henry. >> and wink bakery and bistro. tavis: congratulations. thanks for coming on. it is my delight. thanks for tuning in. until next time, as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at
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tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with a legendary blues artists on the release of the complete collection of his work. that is next time, and we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it is the cornerstone we all know. it is not just a street, in boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to pbs stations by viewers like you. thank you.
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Tavis Smiley
PBS February 19, 2013 12:00am-12:30am PST

News/Business. Dwight Henry. (2013) Actor Dwight Henry. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY New Orleans 6, Brad Pitt 5, Dwight Henry 4, Hushpuppy 4, Mr. Henry 3, Cannes 3, Tavis Smiley 2, Mr. Zeitlin 2, Luther King 2, Underdog 2, Mexico 2, Benh Zeitlin 2, A. Baker 1, Dick Armey 1, Baker 1, Bistro 1, Pbs 1, United States 1, Touchee 1, Smiley 1
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on 2/19/2013